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What role should crime victims play in plea bargains?

March 3, 2010

There’s a problematic conflation throughout the article of “victim’s
rights,” which is a largely ephemeral, political idea, with legal
rights of defendants accused by the state, which are enshrined in the
US Constitution. The Press article is rife with examples of crime
victims who say “their rights have been walked on,” but those aren’t
legal rights, only theoretical ones the speakers think they should
have. After all, as the Press notes, “The law does not provide victims
any way to enforce their rights after they’ve been violated.” And if
you can’t enforce a “right” when it’s violated, then it isn’t one – not
in a legal sense, anyway.

The main example in the story probably
isn’t the best one for victim’s rights advocates since it atypically
involves a high-profile, politically connected defendant: Former US
Congressman Craig Washington. His light plea deal (2 years probation)
probably isn’t what the average black man firing a gun at white youth
could expect in Houston, regardless of the victim’s wishes.

I was interested to notice the main reason the victims say they’re
unhappy at Washington’s plea deal: Not at the outcome but because they
didn’t get the chance to say their piece. The two boys who Craig
Washington shot at “wanted to tell their side of the story to a jury,
and made it clear to Harris County prosecutor Lynne Parsons that they
didn’t want to settle for a plea deal. If a jury let Washington off, so
be it.”

I find fascinating this overarching desire by the
victims to tell their story to 12 people they do not know. Indeed,
getting to tell their story, by their own account, was more important than any punishment Washington might receive.

Read the whole entry.


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